Wednesday, November 09, 2005

June 1965

, originally uploaded by _Ingrid_.

My sister and I slept in a walk-through room; it was actually more like a landing or an alcove under the eaves at the top of the stairs. There was a door at the bottom of the stairs, but it was never closed, and there was no door to our room. There was a door separating my brothers’ room from our space. Passing through “the girls’ room” into my brothers’ room was like stepping outside the Gale farmhouse and into the Land of Oz. Their room was all done in matching pale wood; it had prominent grain, golden swirls like wet blond hair floating underwater, elegant and fluid. There were matching drawer pulls and knobs on all the furniture and a nice tile floor, black with colored flecks like someone had tossed confetti in the air. They had built-in beds, one on each side of the room, with drawers for storage underneath, and a window overlooking the driveway at the front of the house. Reading lamps, tiny stars cut into the metal shades, sprouted from the walls over their beds. There was a built in bookcase under the window, and it was filled with books, Zane Grey, and later, Ian Fleming: boys’ books. On my oldest brother’s side of the room there was a desk with two chairs, and drawers, space for each of them to have things, stuff, possessions. Small cupboard doors led to the crawl space under the roof at the foot of each bed, storage for more of their stuff. On the other side was a closet; there was a mirror attached to the door, also a tie and belt rack. To the right of that, facing into the room, was a built in bureau.
What my sister and I had was this: the paneling on the walls didn’t match. My father took scraps that were leftover from elsewhere in the house and nailed them up over the studs, a faux wood patchwork quilt. Parts of the room, especially one area over by the “closet,” which was a gap in the wall studs with a dowel stuck in to it, had no paneling at all covering the insulation; pink, itchy fiberglass oozed out. We shared this closet, which had no door. We had no mirror. Even after my oldest brother got married and moved out and my younger brother was away at college, we stayed in our “room,” while theirs sat empty. While other areas of the house, my father’s den, the basement, were worked on and fixed up, no one ever spent any time or effort on our “room;” it never occurred to any of us to try to fix it up.
That room and the house as a whole was never exactly a haven of solitude or comfort; sadness, fear and violence eddied through the house, swirling in the air, as constant as my father’s cigarette smoke, relentless tendrils stretching into every corner. The house, and that space, holds a singular and powerful attraction for me, as someone might feel the lure of an old lover whose hurt and neglect, with the passage of time, seem insignificant compared to the possibility that they could change: you just know it would be different, you could finally be happy, if you could only go back and fix it all up.
The house was up for sale last year; my husband and I went to see it. It had passed though several different owners since my father sold it and we moved away, I thought by now it would be a different house. I was surprised to see that the most drastic change to the house was a coat of paint on the outside. What had been “the girls’ room” was now a sitting room for the person who slept in my brothers’ old room. There was a flimsy sliding door on the closet; other than that, the “room,” aside from different furniture, was unchanged. As we toured the house, walking slowly and nodding as the owner explained this and that about it, I fantasized about buying it and redoing everything.
I imagined ripping out the old mismatched paneling and pink fiberglass. I pictured the sloping eaves plastered, maybe painted a crisp white: a fresh, light, bare-walled new start. I saw the dormer window expanded to a skylight, the space filled with daylight and fresh air. I thought if I threw open all the windows and aired out the house maybe I could also clear out the sadness, fear and violence that still swirl around inside me. I thought it might all be so different, if I could only go back and fix it all up.

Friday, September 23, 2005

July 1977

Funny story about this haircut. It’s called “the Nova.”

The summer of '77 I had the long Farrah Fawcett hair that was all streaked from the sun (and liberal applications of Sun-In and lemon juice) at the sides. I had to spend about an hour and a half with some very complicated combinations of sprays and setting lotions and heat generating hair styling appliances getting it to look the way I wanted, but it was worth it.

I thought I could trim it myself. I'd watched my beautician snip, snip, snip; it looked easy!

I was wrong.

One side of my hair ended up grossly shorter than the other, and that was just the front. I made an appointment to go and get it fixed. I never let on to my parents what I had done, flushing the hair down the toilet and wearing it under a headband with the rest of it pulled back for the few days till my appointment

I began to drop hints that I might be getting it cut short, and my mother was trying to talk me out of it. My friends tried to talk me out of it too. One said, “Oh don’t, it looks so cool, it looks better than Farrah’s!” It was too late to be talked out of it; there was no turning back after I made the ham-handed chops to just below my ear late one summer night, casually watching Johnny Carson reflected in the mirror just above my shoulder as I cut. I was so embarrassed that I had made such a mess of my own hair, my perfect Farrah hair, that when I went to the hairdresser, I told her that I was at a party and someone was playing with a cigarette lighter that flared up and my hair caught fire, so of course I had to cut out the singed ends.

I don’t think she bought it. She brought out a book with pictures of different hairstyles in it. She pointed to one, and said, “This one’s called The Nova.”

Comments from original website:

daisyjellybean @ 2003-07-29 20:54 said:
i like the nova... and i had a similar story... my friend tried to cut my bangs one night a party when i was in college and they totally messed up and i told the beautician that a cigarette singed the ends... tee hee...

arto @ 2003-07-29 20:56 said:
well told, as always!

jungalero @ 2003-07-29 20:58 said:
I love it! You`re foxier than Farrah...

keith @ 2003-07-29 20:59 said:
That`s a super nova {groan} . . . sorry. Something along the lines of your singed hair story actually happened to me, involving a big wad of Hubba Bubba bubblegum and bad aim on the part of my brother . . .

hoyumpavision @ 2003-07-29 21:06 said:
Look how pretty you are! Geesh! I wanted my hair like Farrah`s, too. I even cried when my hair wouldn`t do that cool feathering thing.

neene @ 2003-07-29 21:17 said:
i feel your pain, i cut & color my hair myself to this day and am forever looking in the mirror and saying "how could I possibly do this to myself"

machine59 @ 2003-07-29 22:08 said:
love the story and really like the foto. great

strangerswcandy @ 2003-07-29 23:49 said:
ahhh high school hairdos. I insisted on parting my hair in the middle (aka travolta), now its departed in the middle (aka willis). I`d go with the Nova any day.

agatebay @ 2003-07-30 02:10 said:
Great story, great hairdo.

mr_magoo @ 2003-07-30 07:50 said:
you are a picture.

garydann @ 2003-07-30 11:02 said:
this is the feathered hair.

tommygnosiss @ 2003-07-30 11:52 said:
i love the hair too! and your story truly entertained me!

fotonaut @ 2003-08-11 22:22 said:
You are so open with your, thanks!

aaahhh @ 2003-08-19 00:26 said:
Beautiful photo! You look like the singer from Abba. It`s oddly fascinating reading a stranger`s life story. Thanks for sharing

December 1980

I’m on my way to a shoe repair shop in Grand Central that someone at work recommended, Eddie’s, all the way at the back by Track 40. There’s a flower stand right next to Eddie’s, and as I come around the corner, I get hit in the face with the sickly sweet scent of roses. My tongue flies to the roof of my mouth and the back of my throat tenses, waiting, and I try not to swallow, bracing for the phantom drip.
We used to call it “Roses in January,” even in the summer, because of the artificial smell, the sick-sweet yet caustic odor that meant an anticipated high, a gnawing feeling, a skitterish feeling, a feeling like flying above whatever problems you had, and flying fast. That smell meant something important to be suffered for, like a martyr enjoying the sacrifice. I saw no problem, no addiction; I was surrounded by friends who were all doing it too. These were loyal friends, people I worked with, neighbors: good people.
We, these people and I, made a ritual out of the whole thing. We would plant ourselves on the sofa, with my coffee table at our knees. We had a mirror; we did short lines, short meaning maybe one inch, let it sink in, take effect. Then do another, open your eyes a little more. Sometimes the stuff was brownish, tan, yellow, slightly green, or just white. Maybe there’d be little flecks in it. Sometimes it was just me doing it, alone.
Oh, I knew the motorcycle gang the Pagans made it in the Pine Barrens. Who knows what they put into it? We’d heard the stories about the battery acid, the Ajax. Yet I put it up my nose, down my throat, and into my body it went, coursing through my blood, made my blood course faster. It passed through all of my organs, affected each and every sense. My eyesight seemed clearer, indeed, my pupils huge, my eyes practically bulging, trying to see everything. I would jump at the slightest noise, my hearing positively bionic, but taste and smell was gone, my sense of touch was also dulled, hands and fingers shook, sweaty, my body reverberated with the escalated pounding of my heart; I could see it thump in my stomach. My tongue thrashed inside my mouth, not tasting the dry harsh taste that surely was there, instead pushing and ramming against all sides of my mouth like an animal trying to get out of a cage. I willingly swallowed that bitter drip.
That is when I wasn’t talking. Everyone talks a lot on speed. When you are alone, you talk to yourself, or if that seems “weird,” you think, and what you would have said bounces around inside your head and ricochets around on the inside of your mouth with your working tongue, so that your cheeks look like a cat in a bag: twitching and moving erratically.
I liked to clean a lot when I did speed. Arrange magazines on the coffee table at right angles, no- diagonally! According to date or theme? The stash box goes HERE, not there, and wipe out the ashtray. Never mind that you’ve just lit another cigarette. If something is out of place, it is life or death, details are everything.
I also liked to put on makeup. It once took me a full three and a half hours from shower to door cause I was obsessed, shading my eyes with several different shades of brown, mauve and grey that no one would notice in the dimly lit club I was heading for, separating any lashes with a pin that mascara might have stuck together, mixing lipsticks and glosses with the precision of a landscape painter trying to match the blue of the sky, and knowing it will be impossible to replicate.
They don’t really sell accessories for crank like they do for pot or coke do they? The fancy bongs, the hand painted stones for joint holding, the roach clips everyone had on key chains, or how about the tiny yellow brown vials with the black plastic caps, the ones with the tiny telescoping spoon built in to them, sterling silver blades to chop and line it and tubes to snort it up. None of that for speed, meth, crank. We used to come up with all sorts of paraphernalia ourselves, your mind and your hands were all working at warp speed any way, why not just fashion something for yourself to use?
Like MacGyver, the guy on TV who could make a bomb out of duct tape and a rubber band, we devised all kinds of stuff. Once we emptied out a nasal spray bottle, and filled it with meth and a bit of water, so we could do it at the mall, at work, wherever and not attract attention. An empty makeup container was perfect to hold the blade, the tiny baggie, a straw and it had its own mirror. McDonald’s had the best straws, they were thick, good quality, (you could wash them!) and were very wide around. I learned how to reseal the Baggies to keep it fresh, pressing it in the pages of a book and touching a match to the end sticking out to melt the plastic shut.
So I get my shoes, and as is usual for Eddie’s, they have done a good job. I head past the high chairs where two men sit getting shoe shines, one reading a newspaper, the other staring into space. As I walk out, I take a huge gulp of air, a diver leaving the high board, anticipating the approaching slap of the water. I hold my breath all the way past the flower stand, where people are lingering, admiring and paying for flowers, and not minding the smell of the roses at all.

Comments from original website:

lightpainter @ 2003-09-27 15:37 said:
Why aren`t you writing novels? (maybe you are?) This stream-of-consciousness writing with incredible detail is so real that I feel like I`m there doing lines with you.

shuggy @ 2003-09-27 15:39 said:
WOW!! great story, I had that frantic feeling just now while reading it..

alwayslookaround @ 2003-09-27 15:42 said:
i agree with lightpainter. your stories are defenitely book worthy. very real descriptions of your experiences. they often bring back memories of my own similar experiences, which i could never put in words as craftfully as you do.

ronni @ 2003-09-27 15:55 said:
Roses and tulips, history. Like minds, though the stories diverge...

luluvision @ 2003-09-27 15:56 said:
what a story history! I felt like I was doing lines with you too! thanks for sharing this!

artofgold @ 2003-09-27 16:02 said:
I agree with lightpainter. You have amazing writing skills. I was hanging on every word! Thanks for sharing! :)

zeke @ 2003-09-27 16:09 said:
What powerful writing. Brings back a few memories from younger, more foolish days that I hadn`t thought of in years. You realy nailed that strange mixture of nostalgia and horror. Great job.

jungalero @ 2003-09-27 16:22 said:
Reading this was a horrifying 5 minutes....yet so beautifully written I`d do it again. Just like a drug addict.

garydann @ 2003-09-27 16:49 said:
I was 6 months oldyou f-ing rule Ingrid! Lightpainter is right ...u should write novels.

eliahu @ 2003-11-08 18:01 said:
very compelling reading. hash was my drug of choice in those days, although i did write my college thesis in one mad speed-fuelled session. needless to say i only scraped through with a pass.

super8mm @ 2003-12-08 13:41 said:
I think it was Frank Zappa once said that "speed will turn you into your parents" that was enough to keep me away...but this description gave me the jangles just reading it.

jimmy10019 @ 2003-12-28 10:02 said:
I have never seen this page of yours; I cannot thank you enough for leading me hear. This is amazing. I always think I am so alone in this and I never would have guessed this about you and all I can say is this is most encouraging to me. Powerful.

sandman44 @ 2003-12-28 19:00 said:
This should be posted on every wall in every sholl and workplace in the world. How very powerful!

nihihiro @ 2004-01-19 15:45 said:
Great Mix or story and foto. I enjoyed your work.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

November 91

This entry originally published on another site in November '03, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. The photo is from November of 1991.

My mother used to talk about the Kennedys all the time. She would say, “Rose Kennedy won’t allow her family to discuss politics or religion at the dinner table.” Or “the Kennedy children promised their parents that they wouldn’t smoke or drink till they were 21.” I remember her talking about how she wanted a “pill-box hat” to wear to church, till she got one. When she noticed, while I was still very young, that my one leg was longer than the other, she told me to stand with one foot slightly in front of the other to even out my hips. “the way Jackie Kennedy stands in pictures; I think she has that too,” she would say, meaning the unven legs. So in every picture I saw of Jackie Kennedy then, later when she would become Jackie O., and even now, when I see an old picture of her standing, I look to see the position of her feet. Life magazine did a whole spread on the Kennedys, I saw the magazine with the pictures at my aunt’s house, and was mesmerized by them.

There were other pictures in Life magazine, too, pictures that mesmerized me in a different way. The people in some of the shots seemed oblivious to the camera, and were caught displaying some intense emotion for all the world to see. Sometimes the subjects were immobilized by the camera at the moment that something, something important, had happened. The pictures weren’t slick and perfect. They sure didn’t look like our family snapshots; they weren’t fabricated or smooth, like a lie. They were blurry, or grainy, and they were often in black and white. The truth of the situations they were depicting, I knew, was hidden somewhere within them, and I studied them till my eyes ached searching for it. Surrounded by constant uncertainty at home, I was hoping to feel what it felt like, for once, to see the truth.

My first camera was a Polaroid Swinger that my brother’s girlfriend gave to my sister and me. I wanted to try to take the kinds of pictures I had seen in Life; I used to try to catch my subjects unawares. I would practice “posing” in front of a mirror as if I was surprised by or didn’t know about the camera, imitating the shots I saw in Life magazine, hoping that by mimicking the expressions of truth, I would know what it felt like to express something true: joy, sadness, anger.

When I began to study film in college, I was drawn to documentary, hoping to emulate the style of and continue the discourse of what I thought was truth begun by those images in Life magazine I saw at my aunt’s house as a child. I quickly learned that what I had thought looked like the “truth” to me as a child was no more than a style, and I would have to find another way of expressing the truth.

Maybe the most famous images of JFK are contained in the 486 frames of the footage filmed by Abraham Zapruder on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas. For forty years now, people have searched these images till their eyes ached, mesmerized, hoping to see the truth in them. I don’t remember the first time I saw the Zapruder film, but I always feel dread when I see it begin, the unsteady flickering, as if the film itself is aware of the devastation to come and is reluctant to continue. It is a horror film in the truest sense, and though the monster is lurking out of sight, we know it is about to strike. I want to shout out at the screen, “don’t get in the limo, don’t go. Don’t.” But the film goes on, the motorcade comes around the corner of Dealy Plaza, the limo moves smack in front of the lens, he slumps forward, then his head flies back, the spray of blood like a red halo.

Comments from original publication
u4eah @ 2003-11-21 23:01 said:
Hello History,
I find your writings completely fascinating. The succinctity and humor that colors your style engages endlessly. I love how you leave it up to the reader to make the many connections you embed throughout the paragraphs, instead of adding all the verbiage-which is something I`m constantly trying to shave-off when I write.
I came accross this site while sniffing around various digital camera places and your page happened to be the one that I saw first. It was the story about smell of the roses and how it brought you the flood of memories-not the kind one would normaly associate with the smell of roses. As I casually skimmed the first few sentences I was literally jolted from the twist in subject-flow that soon followed and was hooked for hours reading your stuff, nice work girl. I had tried to post several times in some of those fo-logs but no joy.

Looks like fun here...

just_eddo @ 2003-11-21 23:06 said:
I still believe mimicking a reaction can help you empathize with the real thing. As a kid I grew up mostly on my own. Until I was about 12, even when I found something unbelievabley funny, I did not have a natural reaction to laugh, smile or even grin. To this day I can dissociate my expression from my emotions, and I do so frequently at work. At play, I feel (fool?) more when I act out the emotion.

itinerante @ 2003-11-21 23:08 said:
That last comment was me, Eddo`s my brother and he`s sleeping over tonight. Eddo wisely knew he should learn both the dos and the don`ts, and became very sophisticated in his expressions from a very early age.

grantbw @ 2003-11-21 23:10 said:
Ingrid,this touches me in so many places, I don`t know where to begin. You reach way in, and you don`t flinch from looking at what you bring up. There`s no "maybe" about whether you`re a true poet.

I was 15 and in 10th grade math class when the drafting teacher (the only one in our high school with a radio in his classroom) opened the door to our classroom and said, "President Kennedy has been shot." We were all so innocent -- such a thing was so inconceivable -- that we thought it was a joke. We laughed. And he had to say, "No, it`s true." Then we had to conceive the inconceivable.

(On a less somber note, we seem to be shooting each others` old neighborhoods these days. When I first moved to Philadelphia in 1967, I lived just four blocks to the right of where you`re standing in this picture, at 19th & Spring Garden, next to the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal.)

Thank you for what you show us -- in words and in pictures.

ranabass @ 2003-11-22 02:41 said:
Thanks as always for your engrossing story. I was particularly grabbed this time by the Life Mag pics and the search for truth in images...

celt_dog @ 2003-11-22 07:13 said:
i think we were separated at birth.

kitsh_lover @ 2003-11-22 16:49 said:
It`s a interesting literature here, as far as my skils on English language goes, I was facinated by your text.

petitesoeur @ 2003-11-22 17:42 said:
the story is amazing and touching as is the picture of you camera in hand

the one thing of learned after all these years is that so many of the things that we believe only happened to us are experiences that other people have had also -- a happenstance of life validating the phenomenological concept of intersubjective truth

arto @ 2003-11-23 15:40 said:
another wonderful chapter...

vanessasimoes @ 2003-11-23 19:07 said:
you almost do not write...

glazier @ 2003-11-23 23:15 said:
i love the way you put this entry together, beginning with personal, unexpected details and ending, simply, with the most resonant detail---all of them exploring what we find and what we fail to find in film. i don`t know, you`re just a stellar writer, it`s a pleasure to read your flog.

ceekay @ 2003-11-24 07:34 said:
Excellent words, girl. They touch me and make me think. Thank you.

retina @ 2003-11-25 09:05 said:

machine59 @ 2003-12-03 21:55 said:
thanks for the story

eliahu @ 2004-01-19 15:36 said:
my mother bought a Bolex, but she bored us to death with hours of tedious home movies. put me off film-making for many years. i was 9 when kennedy was was my best friend`s birthday that day.

October 1964

One summer my father built an addition on to our house. We got a new living room, kitchen and an indoor bathroom. My mother was proud of the rooms; she went around taking pictures and sending the photos back to her relatives in Sweden. Funny how I’m always at the edge of these “House Beautiful” shots. I always felt like I was at the very edge of my family.

Just look at this room: shiny wood everywhere. What could have been warm wood tones ends up just being cool and flat, the polished surfaces reflect everything back and bounce it off the walls and floors, ricocheting off into empty infinity. The floor is a hardwood tile, the grain going in opposite directions every other tile so it would look like a checkerboard if you could see the whole thing, but it’s so nice my mother keeps it hidden, covered up with a big braided rug, concentric brown circles expanding outward, like a stone thrown in a muddy pond. The walls are shiny walnut paneling, a few shades darker than the floor. There are only a few pictures hanging on the walls, and they are so spaced out that they look absurd, like a single postage stamp on a great big brown envelope.

It’s formal but not tuxedo-and-ball-gown formal, the things in it weren’t particularly tasteful or elegant, but formal in an awkward way: like the way you act when you are forced to have contact with someone that you really don’t like but you can’t show it. Maybe you're not even aware that you don't like them very much, you just don't know them at all. If we were Spanish we would have used the formal “usted” between us.

All the furniture is pushed back against the walls and it’s all symmetrical: end table, sofa, end table; chair, bookcase chair, and they are arranged so that when they are sat in, no one is quite face to face with anyone else. There are no conversation areas here; there wouldn’t be any conversations, either, not really.

Maybe my mother put me in the shot for scale, or maybe just to include another proud accomplishment into the picture. Either way, there I am, right on the edge.